The 1 Thing You Should Always Buy at Walgreens, Not CVS

A bottle of 30 Zyrtec tablets was $6 cheaper at Walgreens than at CVS. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

You may stop at Walgreens or CVS to pick up a prescription, but chances are you’ll leave with at least a few more necessities, like milk, bread, over-the-counter medicine, or a greeting card. You know in the back of your mind that these items would likely be cheaper at Walmart or even Target, but you’re here already, so it’s much more convenient. As we all know so well, time is money.

But how do these two drugstore giants stack up against each other price-wise for such convenience goods? I recently visited both stores to find out. As you’ll see, one of the two stores came out as the clear winner in most categories – but not all. Here we’ll share CVS and Walgreens price comparisons in 10 categories, followed by one thing an expert recommends getting at Walgreens, not CVS.

For each category, the overall price winner is listed, followed by a breakdown of products and prices. I calculated the price per unit when packages being compared contained different total amounts.

1. Over-the-counter medications

  • Lower prices: Walgreens

Drugstores are a common destination, day or night, for over-the-counter medications. I compared prices on pain relievers, allergy pills, and antacids. Walgreens’ prices were lower for five of the six products. There was a price tie for the sixth product.

Advil ibuprofen tablets, 20-count

  • Walgreens: $4.99
  • CVS: $5.29

Generic ibuprofen tablets

  • Walgreens: $.15 per tablet
  • CVS: $.20 per tablet

Zyrtec tablets, 30-count

  • Walgreens: $21.99
  • CVS: $27.99

Generic allergy medication tablets, 30-count

  • Walgreens: $16.99 (Wal-Zyr brand)
  • CVS: $18.49 (Health Allergy Relief brand)

Tums antacid tablets, 72-count

  • Walgreens: $6.49
  • CVS: $6.49

Generic antacid tablets

  • Walgreens: $4.59
  • CVS: $5.49

Next: Who has cheaper body wash and shampoo?

2. Personal care products

Herbal Essences on Walgreens shelf

Herbal Essences was slightly cheaper at Walgreens than CVS. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

  • Lower prices: Walgreens

For these products, I compared toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, lotion, bar soap, and shaving gel. Walgreens emerged as the lower-price winner for four of the six products – with one price tie and CVS being lower on the sixth product.

Colgate Total Advanced White Toothpaste, 5.8 oz.

  • Walgreens: $4.79
  • CVS: $4.99

Herbal Essences Shampoo, 10.1 oz.

  • Walgreens: $4.29
  • CVS: $4.49

Dove Body Wash, 22 oz.

  • Walgreens: $7.29
  • CVS: $8.49

Lubriderm Daily Moisture Lotion, 16 oz.

  • Walgreens: $7.49
  • CVS: $7.49

Irish Spring deodorant soap, 3-pack

  • Walgreens: $3.19
  • CVS: $3.59

Skintimate Shaving Gel, 7 oz.

  • Walgreens: $3.49
  • CVS: $3.29

Next: One store had lower prices on paper products – across the board.

3. Paper products

Scott Tissue

Scott Tissue sits on a store shelf next to store brand toilet paper. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

  • Lower prices: Walgreens

For paper products, I compared paper towels, toilet paper, and facial tissues. (Who knew CVS kept its facial tissues in three separate aisles?) For all products, I looked at prices for both name brands and generic. Walgreens came out on top every single time.

Bounty Select-a-Size paper towels

  • Walgreens: $.03 per sheet
  • CVS: $.06 per sheet

Generic paper towels

  • Walgreens: $.04 per square foot (Nice! Flex-a-Size brand)
  • CVS: $.05 per square foot (Total Home brand)

Scott Tissue toilet paper, 12 rolls

  • Walgreens: $10.49
  • CVS: $10.99

Generic toilet paper

  • Walgreens: $0.34 per roll (Smile & Save brand)
  • CVS: $0.72 per roll (Just the Basics brand)

Kleenex facial tissue, 160-count, 2-ply

  • Walgreens: $2.39
  • CVS: $2.59

Generic facial tissue, 160-count, 2-ply

  • Walgreens: $1.89 (Nice! Brand)
  • CVS: $2.09 (Total Home brand)

Next: CVS wins for a popular convenience item.

4. Milk

Milk in a CVS refrigerator

Milk was found to be cheaper at CVS than Walgreens. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

  • Lower prices: CVS

CVS had lower prices on milk in both full and half gallons. Even though the difference was only $.20, this still scored CVS some points in my book – since milk seems to be a popular item people grab at drug stores and conveniences stores. Always be sure to check the expiration date on convenience items like milk before buying them.

Dean’s milk, gallon

  • Walgreens: $3.19
  • CVS: $2.99

Dean’s milk, half-gallon

  • Walgreens: $2.19
  • CVS: $2.09

Next: Pantry-staple prices compared

5. Cereal, Soda, Coffee

selection of cereal in store

Cereal was cheaper at Walgreens than CVS. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

  • Lower prices: Walgreens

If you’re going to run into a drugstore for items like these, make sure it’s Walgreens over CVS. All the items compared in this section had cheaper prices at Walgreens. Here is a selection of these common pantry products and how they stacked up.

Folgers Classic Roast coffee, 30.5 oz.

  • Walgreens: $10.99
  • CVS: $11.79

Special K cereal, 12 oz.

  • Walgreens: $4.29
  • CVS: $4.49

Cheerios cereal, 8.9 oz.

  • Walgreens: $3.79*
  • CVS: $4.19

* On sale for $2.99, or 2 for $5 

Pepsi, 2-liter

  • Walgreens: $1.99*
  • CVS: $2.29*

* Both stores had sales: Walgreens $1 for a 2-liter, CVS two 2-liters for $3.50 

Coca-Cola, 2-liter

  • Walgreens: $1.99*
  • CVS: $2.29

* Both stores had sales: Walgreens $1 for a 2-liter, CVS two 2-liters for $3

Next: See how six makeup products stack up.

6. Makeup

Revlon Ultra HD Matte Lip Color

Revlon lip color is seen on Walgreens shelves. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

Lower prices: Walgreens

When comparing foundation, lip color, powder, mascara, blush, and makeup remover, I found Walgreens had better prices by up to $1.80 for all products. One frustrating thing about CVS was for several of the products I’d set out to compare, no price was listed underneath or next to the items. For instance, I had to bring the Maybelline blush to the front counter to ask for the price.

Revlon ColorStay Foundation, 1 oz.

  • Walgreens: $13.99
  • CVS: $14.49

Revlon Ultra HD Matte Lip Color, .2 oz.

  • Walgreens: $9.99
  • CVS: $10.49

Almay Smart Shade Skintone Pressed Powder, .2 oz.

  • Walgreens: $14.49
  • CVS: $15.99

Cover Girl Total Tease Mascara, .21 oz.

  • Walgreens: $9.99
  • CVS: $10.99

Maybelline Fit Me Blush, .16 oz.

  • Walgreens: $5.99
  • CVS: $6.29

Neutrogena Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover

  • Walgreens: $5.49*
  • CVS: $7.29

* Regular price was $7.49. There was a $2 in-store coupon during my visit.

Next: Which is cheaper for your cleaning supply needs?

7. Cleaning supplies

Tide detergent

Tide was found to be $5 cheaper at Walgreens than CVS. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

  • Lower prices: Walgreens

CVS didn’t come out any better for cleaning supplies. The price of a bottle of Tide laundry detergent was a whopping $3.50 more at CVS. I also compared dish soap and glass cleaner prices.

Tide laundry detergent, 100 oz.

  • Walgreens: $12.99
  • CVS: $16.49

Generic brand dish soap

  • Walgreens: $.06 per ounce (Smile & Save brand)
  • CVS: $.09 per ounce (Total Home brand)

Generic brand glass cleaner

  • Walgreens: $2.99 (Nice! brand)
  • CVS: $3.89 (Total Home brand)

Next: Which has the sweeter price on your sugar fix?

8. Candy bars

Candy aisle at Walgreens

Walgreens candy aisle | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

  • Lower prices: Walgreens

Be honest, how many of us head for the candy section every time we happen to be at the drug store? The little voice inside your head says, “Gee, I could really go for a [insert the name of your favorite chocolate bar].” The regular price of a standard-size candy bar came out $.10 cheaper at Walgreens. (An added bonus: When I was there, they were also on sale.)

  • Walgreens: $1.19 or 2/$2*
  • CVS: $1.29

* Regular price is listed. Candy bars were on sale for $.79 during my visit.

Next: A necessity for some households was cheaper at CVS.

9. Diapers

Diapers on drugstore store shelves

Diapers were cheaper at CVS than Walgreens. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

  • Lower prices: CVS

For diapers, I set out to compare the two big name brands and the store brands – all in size 3, for consistency. While CVS was cheaper for Pampers and Huggies, I was unable to see if that trend rang true for generic diapers, since CVS had no price listed underneath those.

Pampers Baby Dry diapers, size 3, 32-count

  • Walgreens: $12.99*
  • CVS: $12.79*

* These are regular prices. Both stores had sales: Walgreens had a $2 store coupon, and CVS had them on sale for $8.99 Even without the sales, CVS’ price was lower.

Huggies Little Snugglers diapers, size 3, 27-count

  • Walgreens: $12.99
  • CVS: $12.49

Generic brand diapers, size 3, 36-count

  • Walgreens: $6.99
  • CVS: Price not available

Next: Do you care enough to send the very best?

10. Greeting cards

Card aisle at CVS

CVS sells American Greetings cards. | Karen Bennett/The Cheat Sheet

  • Winner: Depends on your preferred brand

Although a brief perusal of the greeting card aisles had me thinking Walgreens only sells Hallmark while CVS only stocks American Greetings, a quick online search showed me CVS also carries Hallmark cards. However, American Greetings cards were surely more plentiful at the store. So, all prices aside, this comparison really depends on your preference in greeting card brands.

Next: One thing you should always buy at Walgreens

11. Generic prescription drugs

Prescription drugs out of bottle

Prescription drugs | Getty Images

  • 4 of 5 generic prescriptions were cheaper at Walgreens.

A total of 28 million people in the U.S. don’t have health insurance. Many of those folks surely know how expensive prescription drugs can be. And outrageous prescription prices don’t just hit the uninsured. Some people’s insurance companies stop or reduce coverage of their medications.

A 2017 Consumer Reports study compared prices of five common generic prescription drugs at 200 pharmacies across the country. The results? Walgreens beat out CVS for having lower prices on four of the five medications. For perspective, the total for a month supply of all five drugs at CVS was $855, whereas the total at Walgreens was just $603.

It’s worth noting, however, that if you also have access to Costco, the generic prescriptions there came up as priced the lowest (of any offline pharmacy in the study) – for a grand total of just $117.

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